U.K. lawmakers urge fracking moratorium

Hydraulic fracturing in shale for oil and gas should be put on hold in the U.K. because of risks to public health and the environment, a panel of lawmakers said.

A moratorium on fracking is needed to prevent the U.K. from missing its carbon targets and allow time to stiffen regulations for the industry, Parliament’s cross-party Environmental Audit Committee said in a report Monday.

It called for measures including a ban on venting methane, public disclosure of chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing, and a regulatory regime to be written specifically governing fracking.

“Fracking cannot be compatible with our long-term commitments to cut climate-changing emissions unless full-scale carbon-capture-and-storage technology is rolled out rapidly,” Committee Chairwoman Joan Walley, a member of the opposition Labour Party, said in a statement. “There are also huge uncertainties around the impact that fracking could have on water supplies, air quality and public health.”

The Conservative-led government has promoted fracking by Cuadrilla Resources Ltd., IGas Energy Plc and other companies by cutting taxes and opening up swathes of the countryside to bidding for drilling licenses. The Bowland basin in Lancashire alone is estimated to hold as much as 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to meet U.K. demand for half a century.

Lawmakers will debate Monday an Infrastructure Bill that would allow fracking companies to drill deep under land without the owner’s permission.

‘Profoundly Undemocratic’

“The government is trying to rush through changes to the trespass laws that would allow companies to frack under people’s homes without permission,” Walley said. “This is profoundly undemocratic, and Parliament should protect the rights of citizens by throwing these changes out when they are debated later today.”

Members of Walley’s committee, who come from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens, have submitted amendments to the bill that would restrict the development of fracking. Separately, Labour has proposed its own amendments seeking to ban oil and gas fracking unless 13 gaps in regulation are filled.

It’s another setback to the industry after Lancashire planners last week recommended the county council’s Development Control Committee should reject applications for shale drilling at a meeting this week, citing concerns about noise pollution.

Cuadrilla said in a statement Friday it had submitted new noise-reduction proposals to the council and asked to delay a decision to allow for “proper consultation.”

‘For the Birds’

Energy Secretary Ed Davey, a member of the Liberal Democrats, the junior coalition partner in the government, has said he supports the industry, while downplaying its potential significance. Last week, he told Parliament’s Energy & Climate Change Committee that the “hype” surrounding the potential scale of the industry is “for the birds.”

Only a handful of wells have been drilled to date, after opposition from campaigners who say boring into shale rock may contaminate water, cause earthquakes and hurt the countryside.

Public soundings by Davey’s department indicate fracking isn’t widely accepted. A Nov. 4 survey of more than 2,000 people showed just 26 percent support shale-gas extraction, with 45 percent expressing no opinion.

U.K. Onshore Oil & Gas, the industry body, said in an e-mailed statement that it “fundamentally disagrees” with the committee’s findings.

‘No Evidence’

“The government has already announced that the next shale-gas sites will not only be regulated by the four different regulators in line with 17 EU directives, requiring up to eight environmental permits per site,” UKOOG Chief Executive Officer Ken Cronin said. “No evidence exists of a failure in the current multi-regulated arrangements.”

Walley’s panel said that even if a moratorium on shale drilling isn’t brought in, there should be outright bans in national parks and areas around groundwater supplies, and on fracking for shale gas, though not oil.

“We called for a moratorium on fracking because it cannot be accommodated within our climate change obligations,” the committee said in its report. “A halt is also needed on environmental grounds, and it is essential that further independent studies into the impacts of fracking in the U.K. are completed to help resolve the environmental risk uncertainties.”

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at acrawford6@bloomberg.net Eddie Buckle, Andrew Atkinson